Stroke survivor shares incredible recovery

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Stroke survivor Samantha Seal.

Stroke survivor Samantha Seal.

There was no pain, but a leg that wouldn't work and 'face droop' were the tell-tale signs that 49-year-old Samatha Seal was having a stroke.

Just one month ago, Samantha Seal was in the Cairns Hospital Emergency Department preparing to be flown to Townsville for life-saving surgery to remove the clot that had formed in her brain.

Today, she is preparing to fly to the Philippines where she will spend a month backpacking with her husband.

Incredibly, the 49-year-old Yorkeys Knob woman has walked away from an ischemic stroke – when a blood clot blocks or narrows arteries leading to the brain – with no side effects such as speech impediments or paralysis due to her early identification of the tell-tale ‘facial droop’ and the time-critical treatment Cairns Hospital medical staff delivered.

'Because I got over it so quickly, I feel like I just scraped my knees,' she says. 'I just dismiss it. I just get up and move and just go.'

The theme of National Stroke Week from 8-14 August is Act Fast to Enjoy Precious Moments, an especially poignant message on July 13 when Samantha first experienced a numb leg.

The early riser was going to make a coffee, when she realised she couldn’t get up from the couch.

'I was going for my second coffee, I was fine before that,' she says.

'I went to get up and I couldn’t move my leg from the couch. I went over to the dining table and was like, ‘wake up’, this is unusual. I dragged myself down to the bedroom and saw myself in the mirror and I went ‘I’m having a stroke’.'

Samantha immediately called her husband, a shift worker, and then called an ambulance.

She was transferred to the Cairns Hospital Emergency Department where she was told she had suffered an ischemic stroke and had a blood clot on the brain.

Samantha received intravenous thrombolysis to break up the clot, according to Cairns Hospital Stroke Nurse Navigator Elise Bertram. She was then transferred to the Townsville University Hospital where she underwent endovascular clot retrieval, a procedure where a small tube is inserted through the groin and up to the brain to remove the clot.

'Six days later Samantha was discharged directly to home with no disability after receiving time-critical treatment options,' Ms Bertram says.

'This treatment is a success due to the great working relationship between the ED staff, X-ray department and stroke service being activated.'

The clot retrieval was the only point where Samantha experienced any pain.

'You don’t feel it beforehand. I guess that’s why a stroke victim doesn’t feel it, you just don’t know,' she says.

'The whole side of my body just went completely dead but there was no pain. The pain comes when they are trying to get the blood clot out. It felt like something pumping up your brain and it’s going to explode.'

Samantha has nothing but praise for Health Service staff, after having experienced two major episodes within 12 months. The first was in October 2021 when she 'danced with a box jellyfish'.

'It was the most painful thing I have ever experienced in my life,' she says.

'I was swimming here (at Yorkeys Knob) and it hit all the way down the side of my body. I just walked into it. We had a dance. It was burning straight up and I was trying to get it off me.

'This hospital is amazing. The medical professionals were all amazing. Every one of them down to the people organising the flights. The staff were amazing with what they put up with. We are so lucky.'

Life is continuing as normal for Samantha now, and she is looking forward to travelling to the Philippines, and then other parts of South-East Asia in the coming years.

Her advice to others is to take numbness seriously, or the key signs of stroke – a drooped face, arms that can’t be raised and slurred or confused speech.

'I was thinking it may have been pins and needles,' she says.

'I was thinking maybe I am overthinking it but looking in the mirror, that really confirmed that something serious was going on. Anything like that is pretty serious, if you can’t walk.

'We are very fortunate our medical system is the way it is.'

To learn more about strokes or what to do if a loved one is experiencing one, visit Stroke Foundation Australia.